September 15, 2016

Presenteeism is a phenomenon defined by employees coming to work despite having an illness that, realistically, calls for absence. The Canadian Mental Health Association notes that “presenteeism can affect an organization just as sickness or absence can in terms of productivity and performance.” Given that presenteeism is not to the benefit of the employer, detrimental to the well-being of employees and decried by unions, important questions arise: Why does presenteeism persist? What is the relationship between presenteeism and attendance management? Can both presenteeism and absenteeism be reduced? If so, how? Join a panel of experts for a discussion of these questions and an explanation of the legal and industrial relations concerns surrounding these issues.

  • Presenteeism: Is presenteeism simply a phenomenon of people coming to work when they are ill and should be resting, or is it broader than that? What is the relationship between mental health and presenteeism? What causes presenteeism? Why do employees who are sick enough to justify an absence come in to work? Is presenteeism more common in certain types of workplaces or more prevalent among certain types of workers? What are the economic costs of presenteeism? How do they compare to the economic costs of absenteeism? How can presenteeism be reduced? If presenteeism is about productivity, should employers use technology to track employee productivity more closely? Would such efforts run afoul of employee privacy rights in legislation, the common law or collective agreements? Should employers insist on strict no overtime policies to reduce stress and, hopefully, presenteeism? Can unions and management work together to reduce presenteeism?
  • Attendance management: What is the relationship between presenteeism and attendance management programs? How should threshold levels of attendance be set, both from a legal perspective and from the perspective of reducing presenteeism? Are incentives for excellent attendance fraught with either legal dangers or the danger of increased presenteeism? What medical information can employers legally require from employees taking a sick day? What requirements for medical information for absences should employers establish if they wish to reduce both absenteeism and presenteeism?
  • Accommodation: Do employees have a duty to disclose disabilities when those disabilities cause absenteeism or presenteeism? Does the employer have a duty to inquire into the employee’s health and determine if the employee has a disability that requires accommodation if the employee looks ill at work? If so, when? How should the subject be brought up? Do employers have a duty to accommodate employees who engage in presenteeism (i.e. they are less productive because of illnesses or medical conditions)? What if the reason for reduced productivity is “stress”? When will a disabled employee’s absenteeism or presenteeism create an undue hardship, entitling the employer to dismiss the employee? Are there any restrictions on such a dismissal (e.g. benefits, severance pay, etc.)?
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